RALE: Town center study underestimates increased traffic

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/28/2013
A report commissioned by Monrovia residents states that a transportation study for a proposed 1,510-home development in the area is riddled with flaws and underestimates the traffic that would be created by the new housing. The group of residents who oppose the Monrovia Town Center project has sent the analysis to officials with the Maryland State Highway Administration. The group, Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, also requested a meeting with state transportation officials before Frederick County commissioners begin deliberating on the town center project planned near Md. 75 and Md. 80. In his letter to the SHA, RALE’s president, Steve McKay, wrote that the development as planned would put drivers at risk. “It is difficult to imagine that there will not be serious adverse safety consequences that result from adding the amount of unmitigated traffic to Md. 75,” McKay wrote. “These safety concerns have been underscored by 11 hours of testimony by well over a hundred residents over the course of three nights before the Frederick County Planning Commission — many recounting first-hand accounts of severe traffic accidents on Md. 75.” After the series of recent meetings, the planning commission recommended approval of the developer’s request to rezone 457 acres from agriculture to planned unit development. The commission members also voted favorably on a proposed agreement between the county and developers.

City reverses Citizens-Montevue subdivision

Some now hope county will reconsider sale
Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
11/27/2013
The Frederick County Board of County Commissioners will need to retrace its steps when pursuing the privatization of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facility. The city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday to reverse the city Planning Commission's decision to subdivide the land. The land the centers sit upon must be subdivided from the rest of the parcel they are on in order for the county to sell the land and privatize the centers. The Board of County Commissioners voted this past summer to privatize the centers. A planned sale to Millersville-based Aurora Health Management, which is now operating the centers, is not yet final. The plan has faced opposition from residents and members of the centers' former board of trustees, who think the centers should continue to serve as public entities serving low-income residents. The board of trustees was dissolved in June when the county commissioners voted to move forward with the sale of the two facilities. In its decision Tuesday, the board agreed with the one former board member and two residents who appealed the Planning Commission's decision in a few ways, stating that the county's application was not complete, and the commission should have considered the intent of the subdivision and how the county's plan for the land would affect city residents. The commission erred when considering the incomplete application, erred in failing to evaluate whether the plan conflicted with the city's comprehensive plan, and erred when thinking that that they were restricted from asking the county its plan for the land, said Jim Racheff, zoning board chairman. The zoning board voted unanimously to vacate the approval of the subdivision, and remand it back to the planning process.

Officials look for legal guidance on outside pay for county executives

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/22/2013
State Sen. David Brinkley said he plans to ask for legal guidance on whether someone who owns a business, collects retirement benefits or earns other private income could serve as Frederick County executive. The Frederick County charter set to take effect next year stipulates that an executive cannot "participate in any private occupation for compensation," and as election season heats up, some are wondering exactly what those words mean. After a meeting with Frederick County commissioners Thursday, Brinkley said he doesn't think the charter writers meant that an executive can't earn any income outside the $95,000 annual salary that comes with the office. "If it was interpreted in the broadest sense, no one would qualify," Brinkley said. "Or at least, I wouldn't want a person in there who has no dividends, interest, retirement or any type of income from any other source. That's just unreasonable." Brinkley began asking questions about the employment restrictions after hearing Commissioners President Blaine Young discuss the issue on his afternoon radio show. Young is considering a run for the county executive post in 2014, but wouldn't relish sacrificing ownership of several businesses.

Commission votes favorably on Monrovia Town Center rezoning

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/21/2013
After three nights of public testimony, the Frederick County Planning Commission on Wednesday weighed in favorably on a rezoning request that would allow the advance of a 1,510-home project in Monrovia. Three members of the planning commission opposed a recommendation to approve the rezoning application filed by developers in the Monrovia Town Center project. Their “no” votes reflected their doubts that road networks around the proposed project could handle an influx of new residents. Four planning officials voted in favor of giving a positive recommendation to the rezoning request, saying the developers were meeting legal requirements with plans to fund transportation improvements. In a second decision, the planning officials voted 5-2 that a proposed agreement between the county and town center developers was consistent with the county’s overall growth plans. “For me, the main concern is the road network,” said Commissioner Dwaine Robbins, who cast an opposing vote on both matters. “It meets the letter of the law, but just in my gut, it don’t feel right.” The votes capped off a series of meetings that started last month and has drawn hundreds of Monrovia residents to Winchester Hall.

Vote set on Citizens, Montevue land next week

Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
11/19/2013
Frederick County commissioners could be forced to take a step backward in their mission to privatize Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facility. The city of Frederick’s Zoning Board of Appeals is to make a final decision Nov. 26 on whether the city’s Planning Commission was justified in May when it approved the county’s request to subdivide the centers’ land. The county asked to split the 41-acre site into two parcels — one with Citizens and Montevue, and the other with the remaining buildings. The land must be subdivided to move forward with the sale of the centers. After the Planning Commission voted to subdivide the land, commissioners voted to privatize the centers. A planned sale to Millersville-based Aurora Health Management is not yet final.

Monrovia residents say impact fee elimination would be developer boon

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/17/2013
Critics of a 1,510-home project in Monrovia are asking whether talk of changing county growth policies will lead to letting developers off the hook for millions in school construction fees. The proposed Monrovia Town Center is projected to add 840 students to surrounding schools, and county law requires the developer to put up an estimated $20.6 million in impact fees to expand classroom space for the newcomers. Opponents of the Town Center project say the impact fees will fall far short of paying for even one new school. However, they also worry that if county officials eliminate impact fees, this developer contribution for schools will drop to zero. "Instead, the costs will be borne by county residents," Steve McKay, a Monrovia resident, testified at a recent public hearing. County officials and community stakeholders are set to start brainstorming next week on the best ways to deal with growth in the county. The group has formed amid discussion of eliminating the county's impact fees and replacing them with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold.

Unbalanced task force

Frederick News Post
Steve McKay
11/17/2013
Since Commissioners President Blaine Young announced his intent to rid the county of the dreaded impact fees, I have been trying to pay close attention to this subject. After all, those dreaded impact fees are an important source of funds to mitigate all of the massive infrastructure challenges being created by the county’s drive to develop, particularly here in south county. So it was with some concern that I read The News-Post’s article of Nov. 12 headlined “Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force.” In all my efforts fighting against the Monrovia development, I can count on one hand the politicians that have raised their voices in our support, and Delegate Kathy Afzali is one of them. She has been a vocal supporter in our fight against Monrovia Town Center, and against excessive growth in this part of the county. She and Delegate Michael Hough came out to our meeting in Urbana, and we had a very constructive exchange. She even stood up and testified against the development at the planning commission hearing. She is doing her job and representing her constituents — us! So I was dismayed at Sen. David Brinkley’s comments in the paper that day. First, I found the comments very unprofessional, considering that he was speaking about a fellow legislator from the same district and party. Beyond that, however, I was dismayed that he would choose Delegate Galen Clagett, someone so clearly aligned with the development community, to participate on this task force, which is already so clearly biased toward the developers. Make no mistake, this task force is going to recommend ways to make the developers pay less for the impacts that new developments have on our roads and schools. Who will make up the difference? You and me, the taxpayers. Blaine Young wants to abolish the impact fee. For Monrovia Town Center, that represents 60 percent of their contribution toward new schools. When the impact fee is gone, under the terms of the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement they have proposed, the developer will be completely off the hook for over $20 million! Under cross-examination at the third of four days of planning commission hearings on Monrovia Town Center, the applicant’s attorney, Rand Weinberg, confirmed as much.

Underrepresented on growth

Frederick News Post
11/16/2013
The growth task force, recently formed by the Board of County Commissioners to investigate ways for development to pay for its impact on our schools, roads, water and sewer supplies, and other infrastructure, lacks a broad enough membership to deliver a comprehensive and fair solution. Groups represented include the Frederick County Association of Realtors, Frederick County Building Industry Association, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, a municipality, and the senior, education and library communities. Elected officials from Frederick County’s delegation of state delegates and senators will also serve — it was the choice of precisely who from that delegation would join the task force that caused some contention earlier this week. Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican who represents northern Frederick County, was rejected as a participant by a fellow Republican, Sen. David Brinkley. Brinkley instead selected Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat, and delegates Patrick Hogan (R) and Galen Clagett (D). While we understand the argument that Young, Hogan and Clagett represent districts that include the city of Frederick, an area naturally suited for more growth, we also understand Afzali’s position that she represents Monrovia, an area in which the debate over development is current and controversial. “Afzali is about Afzali and not a solution to the problem,” Brinkley told reporter Bethany Rodgers. Yes, Afzali has an annoying tendency to want to grab headlines, but she makes a good point about the task force’s composition: It has a clear bias toward developers, builders and real estate agents. While we understand that those representatives are some of the key industries affected by either a transfer tax on the sale of existing homes or an impact tax on the sale of new ones, what the group lacks is representation from county residents — the taxpayers — who also have skin in the game.

Development and death in Monrovia

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/08/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says he doesn’t remember telling a woman concerned about a 1,510-home development in Monrovia that she shouldn’t be worried because “you’ll be dead by the time everything comes together.” But Monrovia resident Kathy Snyder (the woman who was supposed to take consolation from her limited life span) says she recalls the conversation clearly. Snyder offered her version of events Wednesday, when she joined dozens of others at a public hearing on the Monrovia Town Center. According to Snyder, her March interaction with Young went something like this: She and her husband walked up to the county commissioner during a building industry exhibition at the Frederick Fairgrounds. Snyder said she wanted to ask Young to keep an open mind about the Monrovia Town Center, since many area residents opposed it. “How old are you?” Young asked (according to Snyder). Snyder paused, was taken aback, didn’t know what to say. “He said, ‘Listen, you don’t have to worry about all this development. … You’ll be dead by the time everything comes together,’” Snyder, 50, recounted. Snyder said she walked away from the conversation insulted and troubled by Young’s attitude.

Frederick County work group to discuss impact fees, new transfer tax

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/05/2013
The unanimous decision followed discussion about eliminating the county’s impact fee and replacing it with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold. The Maryland General Assembly would have to authorize the change, so recent efforts to swap the fee with a tax fizzled without support from a majority of Frederick County’s legislators. Delegate Kathy Afzali said creating a new tax on home sales would further depress the county’s housing market. “We’re hungry for buyers,” said Afzali, R-District 4A, who has worked in real estate. “If anything, we should try to figure out how to cut costs for buyers.” But Commissioners President Blaine Young said it’s not fair to rely only on new construction to drum up funds for infrastructure improvements. Developers pay impact fees of $15,185 for each single-family detached house, $13,089 for townhouses or duplexes, and $2,845 for other residential units. The costs are typically rolled into the cost of a new home and passed on to the buyer. The fees, which brought Frederick County almost $7.2 million in fiscal 2013, are intended to fund construction of additional library and school space to serve the new communities.

County decides to relax stream buffer requirements

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/01/2013
The legally required swath of trees and shrubbery separating Frederick County's homes from its streams is becoming 25 feet slimmer. Commissioners voted Thursday to relax the county's stream buffer ordinance, a "modest change" that they said would have little effect on the county's waterways. Allowing homes closer to county streams opens up a bit more land to developers, giving them more flexibility in site design as they deal with state environmental requirements, county staff said. "Really, we see this as a jibing of county standards to harmonize with the state standards," said Dusty Rood, president of the Frederick County Land Use Council. However, local residents, environmental groups and former County Commissioner Kai Hagen all said they believed decreasing the required stream buffer size would endanger area water quality. Hagen said county's current leaders have shown a pattern of elevating developer interests above other considerations. "They said, 'Jump,' and you jumped," Hagen told the board of commissioners.

Maryland planning official says state not responsible for town center density

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/29/2013
Maryland planners are looking to correct the record after a Frederick County official said state smart growth rules are determining the density of a controversial 1,510-home development in Monrovia. The state does not control local growth decisions or decide the compactness of particular housing projects, a Maryland Department of Planning official wrote in an email to the Frederick County Planning Commission. The email’s author sent the correspondence to address “incorrect statements” made at a Wednesday hearing on the proposed Monrovia Town Center. During several hours of public testimony, some speakers objected to the dense housing arrangement planned for the town center and said they would prefer homes spaced out on 1- to 2-acre lots. Planning Commissioner Bill Hopwood responded that the state discourages these large-lot developments. He mentioned that the commission must follow Maryland mandates and said “five, 10 houses an acre, this is what the state tells us they want.” Not so, wrote David Cotton, of the state planning department. “The state has no authority over local zoning. The densities proposed for the Monrovia Town Center project are the result of local zoning and market forces,” wrote Cotton, western Maryland regional planner.

Gray: More of the same coming from this BoCC

Frederick News Post
David Gray
10/08/2011
We are coming to the end of the third year of a developer-controlled majority of the Board of County Commissioners. You might think their anti-environment, anti-education and budget-depleting gifts to their friends and contributors would begin to subside. Not so. There’s more coming — and soon. ----- There is one year left for this BoCC majority to undermine good planning and give county funds away for developer interests, and other special friends like Aurora healthcare. As a commissioner now for 19 years I have never seen a group of elected commissioners who so blatantly favor their personal and special interests over the citizens and future well-being of this county. I am disgusted to witness these and prior actions of the last three years that leave a legacy of environmental neglect, growing bills and future tax increases, in the millions, to be shouldered by Frederick County taxpayers.

Young describes closed-session votes on Monrovia

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/15/2011
County Commissioners President Blaine Young says if he’d had his way three years ago, the proposed Monrovia Town Center development might be smaller and sit next to a large tract of agriculturally preserved land. To top it off, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the county might not be simmering in federal court, he says. The 1,510-home project now moving through the public hearing process has caused a stir in the Monrovia area, whose residents argue the planned development would overburden their roads and schools. Moreover, some say the opinions of current Monrovia residents haven’t played a significant role in county decisions that will reshape their community. Young asserts that the project has been years in the making, and waves of public officials have targeted the Monrovia area as an appropriate venue for Frederick County’s future growth. The last county board, led by Commissioners President Jan Gardner, missed an opportunity to limit the number of homes in the town center and resolve ongoing litigation against the county, he said. “This could’ve been settled by the previous board,” Young said after describing closed-session votes under the Gardner board. Citizen activists say Young’s descriptions of past closed-door decisions amount to nothing more than blame-shifting. “He’s pointing the finger now, trying to sway people to believe it was other people that put him in this position,” said Amy Reyes, vice president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, a group of town center opponents. According to Young, in the first half of 2010, the commissioners were discussing a $50 million lawsuit filed against the county by the developers, 75-80 Properties LLC and Payne Investments LLC. In a closed session on April 1, 2010, the commissioners talked about allowing between 825 and 875 units on the property as long as the developer agreed to place an agricultural easement on property to the east of Md. 75, Young said. While he and Commissioner Kai Hagen supported making the proffer, Gardner and commissioners John L. “Lennie” Thompson Jr. and David Gray opposed it, he said. Young said the vote shows that even Hagen, who is “always seen as the foremost guru on planning,” recognized that housing growth would come to Monrovia. Hagen doesn’t want to get into a back-and-forth over the details of a closed-session vote, he said, but he doesn’t trust Young’s characterization of the decision. While he was open-minded about the town center project, he ultimately concluded that the local infrastructure wasn’t sufficient to accommodate the development, he said. The proposed town center site was among the areas that lost growth potential under the comprehensive plan adopted by the Gardner board, Hagen noted. Young was the only commissioner to vote against that long-range growth planning document. Hagen added that a closed-session vote on a lawsuit is a far cry from backing a development plan. “(Young) is mischaracterizing a thorough, honest process of gathering information and fully understanding the costs and impacts of the development with vacillating on the issue,” Hagen said.

Monrovia Town Center opponents scrutinize [Blaine] Young’s campaign donations

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/09/2013
Opponents of a proposed 1,510-home project in Monrovia are raising questions about campaign contributions that Commissioners President Blaine Young has accepted from companies linked to the developers. Donations totaling $28,000 poured into Young’s campaign coffers Oct. 29, 2012, from seven companies whose resident agent is helping head up the Monrovia Town Center project. The same day, the campaign received an additional $3,000 from 75-80 Dragway Inc., a company that owns some of the property slated for development. As county officials prepare to hold an Oct. 23 hearing on the project, residents around the 457-acre site are crying foul. “I think it’s a gross conflict of interests, and it’s been one since that donation took place,” said Steve McKay, president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, a citizens group that has vocally protested the town center plans. McKay’s group argues the town center would destroy Monrovia’s rural character and says the local roads and schools cannot support hundreds of new homes. While the donations to Young’s campaign were legal, McKay noted that they came a couple of weeks before town center developers, 75-80 Properties LLC and Payne Investments LLC, turned in the rezoning applications for their project.

Monrovia Town Center opponents scrutinize [Blaine] Young's campaign donations

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/09/2013
Opponents of a proposed 1,510-home project in Monrovia are raising questions about campaign contributions that Commissioners President Blaine Young has accepted from companies linked to the developers. Donations totaling $28,000 poured into Young’s campaign coffers Oct. 29, 2012, from seven companies whose resident agent is helping head up the Monrovia Town Center project. The same day, the campaign received an additional $3,000 from 75-80 Dragway Inc., a company that owns some of the property slated for development. As county officials prepare to hold an Oct. 23 hearing on the project, residents around the 457-acre site are crying foul. “I think it’s a gross conflict of interests, and it’s been one since that donation took place,” said Steve McKay, president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, a citizens group that has vocally protested the town center plans. McKay’s group argues the town center would destroy Monrovia’s rural character and says the local roads and schools cannot support hundreds of new homes. While the donations to Young’s campaign were legal, McKay noted that they came a couple of weeks before town center developers, 75-80 Properties LLC and Payne Investments LLC, turned in the rezoning applications for their project.

Officials in holding pattern on waste-to-energy

Young: Incinerator's future is uncertain
Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/06/2013
An effort to build a waste-to-energy incinerator in Frederick County remains on ice as the state weighs a trio of environmental permits. County officials expected the permitting process would be wrapped up by August. More than a month later, they are not sure how much longer it will take. With leaders from Frederick County, Carroll County and possibly other jurisdictions locked in a holding pattern, Commissioners President Blaine Young says the fate of the waste-to-energy project is unclear. "I think it's a coin toss," Young said. "I don't feel confident to say the project is dead. I don't feel confident to say the project is a go." Frederick County leaders are waiting to determine whether it still makes financial sense to build a facility that would consume trash to generate electricity. Carroll County, a partner in the project, wants to back out, but must find a replacement or pay a fine. And no replacement partner is going to show serious interest until the project secures its approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment, Young said."Nobody really knows where these permits are at and where the issue is here," he said. A spokeswoman for the state agency wrote in late September that "MDE is still working through the permit process" and doesn't have a set date for completion.

Citizens Group Raises Concerns About Residential Development

WFMD
Kevin McManus
09/29/2013
The discussion over 8300 new homes planned for the Monrovia is heating up. Members of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion say they're worried about that many homes in their neighborhood. which they say it could increase traffic on Route 75, which can't handle it, and overcrowd area schools. RALE President Steve McKay also says he's worried about a campaign contribution to Frederick County Commissioners' President Blaine Young during the 2010 election. McKay says the developer of the Monrovia Town Center, his wife, and four limited liability companies gave a total of $24,000 to Young's campaign. Two weeks later, the developer filed an application for the project. "When you can so specifically tie a contributor with a development application, that may make a world of difference legally, but I don't think it makes a wit of difference to people on the outside looking in who say 'hey, that's a conflicted situation.'" McKay says. He notes it's legal, but it's not ethical. RALE asks in a news release whether there's a conflict of interest when Young accepts money from a developer whose application he will preside over.

Jan Gardner on her board’s budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.

Jan Gardner on her board's budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.